Transcending Selection

The common element in the classical treatments of knowledge is that the opposition between appearance and reality leaves us unable to get beyond appearance and leaves every animal in its own umwelt. Whether hunting orange is the same color as the leaves or not depends on whether you ask the hunter or the deer; whether dung smells sweet depends on whether you ask a human or a beetle; whether some plank is solid or flimsy depends on whether you ask a mouse or a gorilla, etc. We can walk through all the proper sensibles to find the same relativity, and, as Berkeley points out, secondary sensibles are purely derivative from these and are unintelligible without them. Whether something has shape can’t be answered apart from either color contrasts or the sense of rigidity to touch; whether something is in motion depends on the observer’s motion as well. Call this the subjective element in all sensation which accounts for why every animal has its own unique lived experience of the world, or umwelt.

But to notice the subjective elements in sensations is to divide umwelt from the world, which is by definition to transcend umwelt. Attempts to establish the total dominance of the subjective element always fail retorsive analysis since they all constitute claims to how things are in reality.

The transcendence of umwelt is also a transcendence of natural selection, since when a being both has an umwelt and transcends it (which is peculiar to human existence) artificial selection becomes possible both for itself and what it can control. We can, with Steven Pinker, call the truth-awareness that grounds artificial selection “adaptive behavior” only if we recognize that natural selection does not suffice to explain what is adaptive.* I don’t mind if Pinker wants to insist that truth seeking behavior arose out of natural selection, I’d only want to draw a corollary to this that, if this is so, natural selection has transcended itself.

We get an a priori account of Plantinga’s EEAN by recognizing that truth transcends selection since natural selection can only suffice to account for the variety of organisms so far as they do not see their environments as real/ true or apparent/ subjective/ false. As soon as this realization dawns on something, artificial selection becomes a possible adaptive principle, and any analogy between artificial and natural selection has to be just as careful to notice the differences as the points of agreement.


*I’m not here talking about the way in which the explanatory reach of natural selection is limited by mechanisms like drift or bottlenecking limit it, but the way in which unconscious processes are limited by conscious ones.

%d bloggers like this: